A person living with Alzheimer's or other dementia doesn't have to give up the activities that he or she loves. Many activities can be modified to the person's ability. In addition to enhancing quality of life, activities can reduce behaviors like wandering or agitation.
In the early stages of dementia, the person may withdraw from activities he or she previously enjoyed. It is important to help the person remain engaged. Having an open discussion around any concerns and making slight adjustments can make a difference. For example, a large social gathering may be overwhelming, but the person may be able to interact more successfully in smaller groups.
As Alzheimer's progresses, you may need to make other adjustments to the activity. Use the following tips:
- Keep the person's skills and abilities in mind. Stick with activities the person has always enjoyed and adjust, as needed, to match the person's current abilities. A person with dementia may be able to play simple songs learned on the piano years ago. Bring these types of skills into daily activities.
- Pay special attention to what the person enjoys. Take note when the person seems happy, anxious, distracted or irritable. Some people enjoy watching sports, while others may be frightened by the pace or noise.
- Consider if the person begins activities without direction. Does he or she set the table before dinner or sweep the kitchen floor mid-morning? If so, you may wish to plan these activities as part of the daily routine.
- Be aware of physical problems. Does he or she get tired quickly or have difficulty seeing, hearing or performing simple movements?
- Focus on enjoyment, not achievement. Find activities that build on remaining skills and talents. A professional artist might become frustrated over the declining quality of work, but an amateur might enjoy a new opportunity for self expression. For activity ideas join ALZConnected, our message boards and online support community. Every day, caregivers like you share new ideas and encourage one another.
- Encourage involvement in daily life. Activities that help the individual feel like a valued part of the household — like setting the table — can provide a sense of success and accomplishment.
- Relate activity to work life. A former office worker might enjoy activities that involve organizing, like putting coins in a holder, helping to assemble a mailing or making a to-do list. A former farmer or gardener may take pleasure in working in the yard.
- Look for favorites. The person who always enjoyed drinking coffee and reading the newspaper may still find these activities enjoyable, even if he or she is not able to completely understand what the newspaper says.
- Consider time of day. Caregivers may find they have more success with certain activities at specific times of day, such as bathing and dressing in the morning.
- Adjust activities to disease stages. As the disease progresses, you may want to introduce more repetitive tasks. Be prepared for the person to eventually take a less active role in activities.
If you notice a person's attention span waning or frustration level increasing, it's likely time to end or modify the activity.
- Help get the activity started. Most people with dementia still have the energy and desire to do things but may lack the ability to organize, plan, initiate and successfully complete the task.
- Offer support and supervision. You may need to show the person how to perform the activity and provide simple, easy-to-follow steps.
- Concentrate on the process, not the result. Does it matter if the towels are folded properly? Not really. What matters is that you were able to spend time together, and that the person feels as if he or she has done something useful.
- Be flexible. When the person insists that he or she doesn't want to do something, it may be because he or she can't do it or fears doing it. Don't force it. If the person insists on doing it a different way, let it happen, and change it later if necessary.
- Break activities into simple, easy-to-follow steps. Focus on one task at a time. Too many directions at once can be overwhelming.
- Assist with difficult parts of the task. If you're cooking, and the person can't measure the ingredients, finish the measuring and say, "Would you please stir this for me?"
- Let the individual know he or she is needed. Ask, "Could you please help me?" Be careful, however, not to place too many demands upon the person.
- Make the connection. If you ask the person to make a card, he or she may not respond. But, if you say that you're sending a special get-well card to a friend and invite him or her to join you, the person may enjoy working on this task with you.
- Don't criticize or correct the person. If the person enjoys a harmless activity, even if it seems insignificant or meaningless to you, encourage the person to continue.
- Encourage self expression. Include activities that allow the person a chance for expression. These types of activities could include painting, drawing, music or conversation.
- Involve the person through conversation. While you're polishing shoes, washing the car or cooking dinner, talk to the person about what you're doing. Even if the person cannot respond, he or she is likely to benefit from your communication.
- Substitute an activity for a behavior. If a person with dementia rubs his or her hand on a table, provide a cloth and encourage the person to wipe the table. Or, if the person is moving his or her feet on the floor, play some music so the person can tap to the beat.
- Try again later. If something isn't working, it may just be the wrong time of day or the activity may be too complicated. Try again later, or adapt the activity.